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Who is Banksy?
Banksy is a world famous Street Artist, filmmaker, painter and activist, that made it into Time Magazine's top 100 most influencial people of 2010. What sets him apart from the rest on this list (that included Barrack Obama and Steve Jobs) is that he is a faceless man. No one knows who exactly Banksy is, but, better yet, many of his fans don't want to know his true identity (Ellsworth-Jones, 2013).
This presentation will explore Banksy's influence on culture and society and how he has almost single handedly brought graffiti into the mainstream and effectively became one of the most influencial artists since Andy Warhol (Rabinovitch, 2007). In turn, paving the way for street art to become the biggest cultural movement in Britain since Punk (Exit Through the Gift Shop, 2010).
This presentation will use Malcolm Gladwell's 'The Tipping Point' (2013) as a framework to explore Banksy's popularity and who helped him to get there.
How it all began....
Street Art blew up in popularity in the UK during the 1980s. Influenced by the graffiti coming out of New York, Bristol was the city where many of the early adopters of this new movement began. Bristol's underground scene became somewhat of a melting pot for creativity with some of the most prolific artists coming out of the city. These artists included Banksy, Nick Walker, Inkie and Robert Del Naja, aka 3D from Massive Attack (BBC, 2012).
By the year 2000, Banksy had moved onto creating stencil art so that he could cut down on the time it took to 'put up' his work after a close call with authorities. This allowed him to increase the output of his work and spread it to other cities, while keeping a few steps ahead of the police (Banksy, 2005).
By the time of Banksy's first official exhibition at L.A's 33 1/3 Gallery, he had amassed a small but loyal following that included admirers such as Orbital, Massive Attack, Nick Cave, The Gorillaz, Coldplay and David Bowie (The Artist's Network, 2002). These people acted the part of the Salesmen (Gladwell, 2013), who had inadvertantly helped to endorse Banksy's product. This could also pinpoint the moment that Banksy's popularity began to rise exponentially.
Press at the time of Banksy's first exhibition:
The Observer, Vogue, The Face, Jockey Slut, Hip Hop Connection, plus cover pieces for Sleaze Nation, Creative Review and Exposure. Regional Magazines include Venue (Bristol) The List (Glasgow) Flux (Manchester) and Metro (London). Overseas press: Flaunt (USA) Fader (USA) Colors (World) Juice (Germany) Lodown (World) Studio Voice (Japan) XLR8R (USA).
Over the six months that followed, Banksy held/participated in a number of his now famous Street Shows in London, Hamburg, L.A, N.Y.C, Japan and Australia.
(The Artist's Network, 2002)
Banksy was seemingly everywhere and these magazines were effectively the Mavens of Banksy's work . Spreading Banksy's message to the masses (Gladwell, 2013).
"Unlike many of his contemporaries, the message imbedded in Banksy's paintings isn't 'look at me', but 'look around you'. They are a wake up call to the unwittingly oppressed."
-Si Mitchell, Level Magazine (Artist's Network, 2002)
How Banksy broke into the mainstream:
Banksy's work recieved mainstream media attention after he performed 2 of his most famous pranks. His first was to create fake 10 pound notes (known as the 'Di Faced Tenners') featuring Princess Diana's image in place of the Queen's and then proceeding throwing them off a bridge at the Notting Hill Carnival (West, N, 2007). Consequently, a number of people attempted to spend this counterfeit money in local shops and many have now sold on eBay for 200 pounds (Stencil Revolution, 2012).
The second was when he filmed himself performing a number of 'Hang and Runs' in some of the world's most prestigious museums including: New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, Paris’ Louvre, London’s Tate Modern and The British Museum (West, N, 2007).
But, perhaps his greatest stunt and the one that that drew the most attention from the International media was when he painted 9 pieces on the Israeli West Bank wall in Palestine (Jones, S, 2005). Naturally, the biggest question the media had now was 'who is Banksy?' (Exit Through the Gift Shop, 2010)
"The Israeli government is building a wall surrounding the occupied Palestinian territories. It stands three times the height of the Berlin Wall and will eventually run for over 700km - the distance from London to Zurich. The wall is illegal under international law and essentially turns Palestine into the world's largest open prison...It also makes it the ultimate activity holiday destination for graffiti writers." - Banksy (Jones, S, 2005)
In 2010, Banksy made his first feature film that told the story of Thierry Guetta, a filmmaker who followed various street artists for 8 years, capturing their acts of vandalism. These included famous street artists such as Space Invader, Shepherd Fairey (early adopters) and Banksy. In the end, Banksy turned the camera back onto Guetta who proceeds in attempting to recreate Banksy’s popularity for himself under the pseudonym, Mr. Brain Wash, with hilarious and surprising results.
Some concepts explored within the film include:
‘The Power of Repetition’ – how by repeating something over and over again, can give artwork meaning and a perception of importance. Shepherd Fairey (Obey) This could also explain how Gladwell's Stickiness Factor could apply here because "...in order to be capable of sparking epidemics, ideas have to be memorable and move us to action." (2013, p139)
The internet was important to the emergence of street art as now the art could be archived. This ensured that, even if it is painted over, there would still be some-kind of historical evidence. It gave the work a permanence it didn’t have before (Exit Through the Gift Shop, 2010) .
The concept of trying to creating fame (or an epidemic) within the art world overnight, without having to do all of the hard work to get there (Exit Through the Gift Shop, 2010).
The Banksy Backlash
What Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) and a 13min mini-documentary film, B-Movie (2010) also uncovered was that maybe Banksy wasn't as loved in the art world as we had been lead to believe. It's true he had many famous or connected people that shared their love for Banksy's work with the other well-connected friends, but there were still many that considered his work nothing more than vandalism (B-Movie, 2010).
Additionally, Banksy was consistantly acused of of being a 'sell out' by critics, due to the massive amounts of money his work is now selling for (Stencil Revolution, 2012). He was quick to dismiss that notion in Exit Through the Gift Shop, and instead switched the camera back on his documentor. This lead some to wonder whether that was an attempt by Banksy to divert attention away from his own guilt that he may be responsible for creating this new world of street art (Goldenberg, C. 2010).
Furthermore, there is always the 'age old' question of 'is it art or vandalism?' This question is a hot topic of debate within the art world (B-Movie, 2010). But regardless of what the art world thinks, it is clear that Banksy has started some kind of social epidemic.
What also became apparent in Banksy's films is that he has a team of people that have helped get him to where he is today.
Steve Lazarides - Banksy Spokesperson/Agent who worked with Banksy for 10 years organising his gallery shows and the various pranks. Lazarides was essentially responsible for Banksy's current fame (Michals, S. 2010). "...what Banksy (and Steve Lazarides) have done is to create a market for an entire category of art that until now has not been recognized at the level that it is now being recognized at." (Wooster Collective, 2007)
Wendy Asher and a number of other art collectors, who would sing the praises of Banksy to their high-profile friends, who would then also purchase Banksy's work (Exit Through the Gift Shop, 2010). These people were the Connectors as well as the Salesmen.
The media have also inadvertantly joined Team Banksy. Their hunt for his identity have greatly helped to spread the epidemic of Banksy. A simple Google search will show an incredible amount of news stories almost month to month. These range from stories about whether or not a new piece is a 'Banksy' (Ryzik, M. 2013), to how Dennis Hopper's estranged wife tried to steal his official Banksy before his death in 2010 (Gardner, D. 2010).
There were also those that helped Banksy with performing his stunts, installations and other artwork. These nameless and faceless people were shown throughout Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) but finding additional information of what these people actually do proved too difficult.
Concluson: The power of context
The Banksy Effect
In December 2006, Journalist Max Foster coined the phrase 'The Banksy Effect' to describe the sudden interest in other street artists off the back of Banksy's success. When Banksy's work began to sell at auction for close to $100,000 USD, this also saw an increase in price and purchase amounts for other artist's work (Jahn Gallery, 2013). This shows that Banksy and Steve Lazarides had indeed created a market for street art; some even citing Banksy as the 'gateway drug' of the street art world. Furthermore, many suggest that while Shepherd Fairey may have created the movement, Banksy created the market (Wooster Collective, 2007).
Perhaps the best way to look at how Banksy has become the icon he is today is to look at Gladwell's theory 'The Power of Context'. It is almost the complete opposite idea to the example given by Gladwell whereby in New York, authorities painted over graffiti to reduce crime. This shows how a contextual change to the surroundings stopped criminals performing illegal activities. Because authorities were simply painting over any new graffiti, the criminals gave up and this changed the environmental context that lead to a dramatic decline in crime on New York’s subway system (Gladwell, 2013. Pp140-151).
For Banksy and the world of street art, it was the controversy their work created that gave it context. Although critics may say that Banksy is merely a vandal who's work is clever to idiots, his icon status is undeniable (Stencil Revolution 2012). Through his various art work (legal and illegal), stunts, gallery shows and films, Banksy has always undertaken these endevours with an air of controversy and has managed to help create a phenomenon (with some help along the way). Banksy aided in the creation of an entire street art industry with young galleries and artists selling prints and unique pieces all over the world (Ward, O. 2008).
Sorry those last few slides were boring...here is the Banksy directed Simpsons opening scene:
Banksy. 2005. Wall and Piece. London: Century.
Banksyfilm. 2010. Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop. [video online] Available at: [Accessed: 30 Aug 2013].
Banksyfilm. 2010. Simpsons. [video online] Available at: [Accessed: 31 Aug 2013].
BBC News. 2006. BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Paris Hilton targeted in CD prank. [online] Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/5310416.stm [Accessed: 31 Aug 2013].
BBC. 2012. BBC - Bristol - Street art show comes to Bristol. [online] Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/bristol/hi/people_and_places/arts_and_culture/newsid_7879000/7879064.stm [Accessed: 29 Aug 2013].
Ellsworth-Jones, W. 2013. The Story Behind Banksy. [online] Available at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/The-Story-Behind-Banksy-187953941.html [Accessed: 28 Aug 2013].
Exit Through the Gift Shop. 2010. [DVD] England: Banksy.
Gardner, D. 2010. Dennis Hopper accuses wife of stealing $1m in artwork from his home while he was 'extremely ill'. [online] Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1260577/Dennis-Hopper-accuses-wife-stealing-1m-artwork-including-piece-Banksy.html [Accessed: 30 Aug 2013].
Goldenberg, C. 2010. Banksy's Brainwashing | The Mantle. [online] Available at: http://mantlethought.org/content/banksys-brainwashing [Accessed: 29 Aug 2013].
Jahn Gallery. 2013. The Jahn Gallery - Banksy Bio. [online] Available at: http://jahngallery.com/banksy_bio/ [Accessed: 30 Aug 2013].
Jones, S. 2005. Spray can prankster tackles Israel's security barrier. [online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/aug/05/israel.artsnews [Accessed: 29 Aug 2013].
Michals, S. 2010. Banksy's Ex-Gallerist Talks About Their Breakup, Depictions of Hell. [online] Available at: http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2010/10/banksys-ex-gallerist-talks-about-their-breakup-depictions-of-hell [Accessed: 29 Aug 2013].
Rabinovitch, S. 2007. Banksy's debt to Warhol revealed in London show. [online] Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/08/10/us-art-banksy-warhol-idUSL0988479720070810 [Accessed: 29 Aug 2013].
Ryzik, M. 2013. New York Times - No, That's Not a Banksy. [online] Available at: http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/21/no-thats-not-a-banksy/?_r=0 [Accessed: 30 Aug 2013].
Stencil Revolution. 2012. Banksy: The "Biography" of a Graffiti Street Art Legend. [online] Available at: http://www.stencilrevolution.com/profiles/about-banksy/ [Accessed: 31 Aug 2013].
The Artist's Network. 2002. Existencilism: New Works By Banksy. [online] Available at: http://artists.refuseandresist.org/news4/news193.html [Accessed: 29 Aug 2013].
Ward, O. 2008. Find Out How Graffiti and Underground and Street Art Became Mainstream Gallery Art with Time Out London. [online] Available at: http://www.timeout.com/london/art/how-graffiti-became-art [Accessed: 31 Aug 2013].
West, N. 2007. Banking On Banksy. [online] Available at: http://www.forbes.com/2007/10/31/collecting-auctions-art-forbeslife-cx_nw_1031banksy.html [Accessed: 29 Aug 2013].
Wooster Collective. 2007. Wooster Collective: The “Banksy Effect”. [online] Available at: http://www.woostercollective.com/post/the-banksy-effect [Accessed: 30 Aug 2013].